TOEM is the mystery that you somehow have to discover, photograph, and take back home to show your mom. TOEM is the beauty that is the world, the kindness that are the people within it, and the lovely weirdness that is the interconnectedness of it all. It is very hard to explain a delightfully weird game such as TOEM, but I’ll try my best anyway.
In TOEM, you roam around in six small but lively isolated areas with your camera, snapping pictures of interesting things, and helping out folks while you’re at it. Areas unlock as you progress in your quest—and in your ultimate quest to find TOEM. Once you’ve collected enough stamps which are given out after finishing a task, you can trade these in for a bus stamp to travel further. The quest part involves more camera action. Things can be interacted with with a simple press of the
A button, but that’s about it—most of the interaction is done behind the lens. There are even objects that, when framed in a picture, magically transform into something else.
You start your humble adventure in your own room and home village, where your mother tells you her mesmerizing tale of the search for TOEM. Then she ushers you off to go find it yourself. The tiny village serves as a nice introduction to the mechanics of the game, including the hunt for secrets. As you make your way towards TOEM, you fill up your photo book with fauna and flora of the local environment.
The pacing of the game is very relaxed. You can’t “die”, there is no time limit, it is impossible to get lost, and tasks are neatly outlined in your diary. TOEM is all about laidback exploration. About wandering around, now and then taking that lens out, finding unusual things on top of buildings—or beneath it—and of course taking a snapshot or two. Tasks involve finding items (with your camera), reuniting people, completing songs, helping a hot-dog tent set up, finding murals, being involved in the fashion industry, and so forth. Each location (the woods, the seashore, the bustling town, the mountains) has a unique feel to it.
Besides your trusty camera, you also carry a Walkman with you, aptly named the Hikelady. Songs in the form of cassettes can be handed out after finishing a quest or discovering a new location. This is a lovely way to let you choose which music you prefer. Of course, the soundtrack is also appropriately relaxing. The soundtrack can be purchased separately via the Steam store page or the Epic Games store and is highly recommended.
I loved selecting the Hikelady option in the ring menu and picking a track: the player is treated with an animation of the cassette jumping and clicking into the Hikelady before the song actually starts. There neat little touches make the game even more charming. Considering TOEM was made with a very small team, its aesthetics are minimalistic but very stylish. You can rotate the camera and zoom in and out, but it’s mostly a fixed viewpoint affair (the game was made using Unity, a very popular option lately).
After you’ve snapped everything there is to snap and discovered TOEM itself, about six hours of laid back gaming moments will have passed. Most reviews mention three to four hours, but we’ve had such a good time in the tiny black-and-white world of TOEM that we tried unlocking everything, almost doubling the playtime. Next to the hidden side-quests, there are also achievements to uncover, which can be quite a challenge.
This sounds silly, but we were even a little bit emotional after the endgame. The story isn’t exactly complex, nor is the gameplay, but the “wholesomeness” of this game struck a sensitive chord. The atmosphere, thanks to the visuals and music, is just spot-on. We need more indie and AAA games like this (that is not Animal Crossing: New Horizons) that prove that gaming isn’t always about violence, tight platforming, car crashing, or coin collecting.
Have fun taking pictures of snails. We knew we did.
Addendum, 31 Oct. 2022: Something We Made released a free content update for TOEM, adding an entire new island to explore, full of old and new NPCs. This shows the kind of dedication the developers are aiming for. While rebooting the game after a few months, all emotions came right back. This game does deserve more than a 4/5—I’m changing the score. There!